Rockstar: The Music and the Movie

‘Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.’ – is a one-line, reductive message one can construe from Imtiaz Ali’s latest movie Rockstar. But as I mull over this well-crafted, brilliantly edited movie with an astounding soundtrack (and background score), I realize that this is one of those movies can’t be defined in terms of such meager measures. Like in real life, the joyful and romantic moments pass by in a jiffy, while the sad ones hover around indeterminately. The way the story unfolds in the first half – by the means of snippets, interspersed with flashbacks, and even news clippings – also underscores this point. The masterful craftsmanship by the director Imtiaz Ali is superbly complemented by A R Rahman’s music in this angst-ridden journey of a Rockstar. The story-telling relies and weighs heavily on silent moments, unspoken words, and anguished fury, and often resort to the pulsating soundtrack to express the lead character’s musings, agony and dilemma.

When I first heard that Mohit Chauhan had voiced 9 out of 14 songs in this album, I was skeptical if he would be able to pull it off. But as I heard ‘Phir Se Ud Chala’ (few months ago when the album released), the choice of Chauhan started to make sense. He hails from the mountainous regions of Himachal Pradesh and has mastered the local pahadi folk music style. His reverie-inducing, dreamy, almost careless rendition is exactly what this song needed. The song has a very effervescent quality. Nothing repeats itself, but there’s an underlying order in apparent randomness. The beginning chorus reminded me of the ‘Sone ka pitara’ line from the ‘Jahan Piya’ [Pardes] – which is probably influenced by a traditional wedding song in Northern India.

Imtiaz Ali effectively utilizes most of the 14 tracks. The only song that doesn’t get materialized fully on screen is ‘Tum Ko’ (the Kavita Krishnamurthy version). Harshdeep Kaur’s playful ‘Kateya Karoon’ plays in the background and conveys Heer’s adolescent and naughty ambitions well. I kept thinking that ‘Kun Fayakun’ was somewhat redundant – if not forced into the script. It doesn’t really add anything to the story. (Except for the fact that Shammi Kapoor notices him at the dargah, but that could have happened anywhere.) The whole spiritual awakening was an unnecessary detour that was irrelevant to Jordon’s transformation into an artist. The actual transformation was triggered by his broken heart and lost love; the Sufi spiritualism seemed out of place in Jordan’s life given his character.

‘Jo Bhi Mein’ is so melodious and instantly catchy that it’s hard to believe that Irshad Kamil wrote the lyrics of this song first and ARR developed the tune afterwards. I just loved the guitar work (by Kabuli and Shon Pinto) complimenting the simple tune, and Kamil’s commendable poetry. This song is picturized during the early phases of Jordon’s musical journey – before the real artist is born. Hence the undemanding/easy tune makes sense. On the other hand, the anthem-like, guitar-laden, stunning ‘Sadda Haq’ comes much later as he matures as a musician. The contrast in Ranbir’s expressions between these two songs is enough for one to realize how much hard work he has put in to portray this character. The way Ranbir has performed this song, the tensed nerves on his neck, fuming mouth shouting into the microphone, moody head swings, and angry eyes full of chutzpah make you believe that you are looking at a true Rockstar who really knows the game. Notice how he hastily shakes his fingers several times before starting to play guitar. These small yet careful touches by Ali and Ranbir make this movie a treat to watch.

‘Sheher Mein’ was such a perfectly psychedelic pastiche (ARR doing Nadeem Shravan!) that I was a bit disappointed that it was reduced to few lines in the movie. All the interjections (‘Tum sun nahi rahe ho yaar’ etc.) were retained though, and serve well as comic relief. This is a fun song, something ARR has rarely done before. Other amusing song in this album is ‘Hava Hava’ with a complicated structure where ARR takes some inspirations from gypsy rhythm and sound. Chauhan does Masakkali again, and his voice suits this song well. I especially liked the lyrics, a Raja-Rani anecdote that also reflects (in parts) Heer’s dilemma as she trudges along her unhappy marriage.

Before watching the movie, I felt that the fireworks of acoustic and electric guitar riffs and heavy drum beats (by Shivmani) in ‘Naadaan Parindey’ tried a little too hard to take this song to a climactic height that it wasn’t really meant for. I felt that the extraneous orgy of sounds in this song was borderline dissonant at times. But this song was metamorphosed very successfully on screen – again, kudos to Ali and Ranbir. This is the only song that breaks the one-singer rule as some of Ranbir’s lines were rendered by ARR. In spite of ARR’s presence in the elevated mukhda, I think the song really gets life when Mohit enters with ‘Kaate chahe kitna…’ and ‘Kaga re kaga re…’ lines.

Surprisingly for a love story, there are no duets in this movie. And ‘Tum Ho’ is the only song that Jordon actually sings to Heer. (All other songs are either in the background, or are performed by Jordon to some general audience.) And I thought this was a wonderful way to end this movie – it shows snippets from the times they spend together. Not only we see Jordan sing for and to the object of his inspiration, but we are also reminded yet again how short-lived their romance was; how little time they actually spent together. (A side note: Their adolescent love affair started as a gimmick which involved list-making of things that are social taboo. Eventually, as their relationship matured, they end up breaking one of the biggest social customs – their illicit love affair carries on in complete disregard of the institution of marriage. How ironic!)

Finally, the cinematic pinnacle of the movie for me was the picturization of ‘Aur Ho’. Not only did ARR put Chauhan’s singing ranges on anvil (and Chauhan scored triumphantly), but Ali’s direction, Anil Mehta’s cinematography, Kamil’s lyrics, and the display of emotions/dilemma by the lead actors also attain an artistic high in this song. Some of the best lines in the album come from this song – like ‘Tujhe pehli baar mein milta hoon, har dafa’ and ‘Mein hasrat me ek uljhi dor hua…’. And what can I say about the way this song ends – that unruly kiss at the end of a passionate performance! Loved it! Imtiaz Ali, take a bow.

[Picture Courtesy: The official movie site of Rockstar]


A R Rahman or R D Burman?

I had some engaging discussions with friends recently about who the greatest Indian music composer is. For the most part, the debates revolved around two legends: A R Rahman and R D Burman. (Due to our limited knowledge of Tamil music industry, we kept Illayaraja out of consideration.)

I won’t get into why I think A R Rahman is the greatest, but behind the discussions about the aspects of music (melody, genre, innovation, etc.) I felt that there lies some cognitive biases that affect how we compare the present with the past.

While comparing a contemporary artist — or a piece of art — with a historical one, I think there’s a hidden yet perceptible hesitation to grant more eminence to a contemporary artist than to a veteran. I propose several theories that might explain why:

(1) The veteran artists are often widely respected and revered by our generation as well as our elders that any comparison that do not favor the senior artists is perceived as disrespectful.

(2) Cultural pessimism. Every generation believes that people are not up to the standards of their parents and grandparents. Be it the music industry, or movie industry, cultural values, or the overall state of society, we think that things are getting worse. This pessimism (that our culture is in decline) is one of the reasons why many of us can’t accept that a contemporary music composer (such as A R Rahman) can be better than someone like R D Burman.

(3) We tend to compare the ‘current’ with the ‘best from the past’ — and as a result, the current (music) seems to pale in comparison. Today’s listeners have enjoyed (and endured, if you’re not a fan) pretty much everything that A R Rahman has created. But when it comes to old songs, we are familiar with only those that stood the test of time. Comparing all of the current songs with the best of the past  is unfair — which conveniently overlooks mediocre numbers from the past to affirm that old is gold.

Surely a bulk load of junk was created in the 60’s and the 70’s as well, we just don’t remember those very well. Today’s junk is more accessible — and hence, intrusive and annoying — than yesterday’s.

(4) The diversity of contemporary music industry implies that much trash will be produced. Those suboptimal, low-quality songs should be kept in perspective and we should consider them as a luxury that only a more progressive, innovative and diverse music industry can afford.

All these arguments, in and of themselves, are not enough to conclude that the contemporary music is superior. All I am saying is these cognitive biases tend to impale our ability to make a fair comparison. I am sure there are biases that work in the opposite direction as well. Can you think of any?

Raavan Music Review [A R Rahman]

The eagerly anticipated music of Raavan has finally released. About 12 years ago, Mani Ratnam, A R Rahman and Gulzar gave us one of the best albums the Indian cinema has ever produced: Dil Se. Three years ago, they recreated some of that magic in Guru. And now, they collaborate for the third time, in one of the most awaited movies of the year.

There are six songs in this album – alas, none rendered by the maestro himself, and no instrumental piece.

Vijay Prakash, a disciple of Suresh Wadekar, who did wonders with Man Mohini (Yuvraj), but butchered Fiqrana (Blue) with his almost incomprehensible pronunciations, joins with the newcomer Mustafa for this upbeat energetic introduction of the lead character: Beera. Unlike Omkara (another character-defining song), in which Gulzar had two antaras at his disposal to create a sketch of Omi, Beera Beera is a short song. So Gulzar had to use his words sparingly to introduce the lead character who has ten heads and hundred names (referring to the multitude of his personality?). But he gives us enough clues and teasers to keep us mystified and intrigued about Beera: “Janm na poochho,  jaat na poochho; poochho jo pehchaan, Beera ka abhimaan hai.” Ask not about his lineage, or about his caste. Ask about his identify. His identity is his pride. (Wasn’t pride one of the vices Ravana supposed to have?)

The next song Behene De somehow reminds me of Satrangi Re. It has that passion, that intensity, that agony (which Shahrukh portrayed so well on screen) but everything is toned down quite a bit. Compared to (ironically named) Amar’s desire “Mujhe maut ki god mein sone de”, Beera’s plea for “Behne de” might seem much less esoteric, but the song does captivate the listener and succeeds in evoking a sense of yearning. Karthik’s crisp and earnest rendition does full justice to this wonderful song.

Thok De Killi is high on attitude and adrenaline. A R Rahman knows when to rope in Sukhwinder, whose lively voice and energetic style perfectly suits this song. However, I am not sure if this situational song has a lot of repeat-value. I read somewhere that this movie features the Dravidian martial art Kalarippayattu, and since this song sounds like a war-song it might have been used as a background score to a fight sequence. (I wonder if Thok De Killi refers to the phrase “the last nail in the coffin”…)

The only duet in the album is Ranjha Ranjha, with an unusual pair of singers: Rekha Bharadwaj and Javed Ali. Gulzar takes cue from the great Punjabi poet Bulleh Shah: Rahnjha ranjha kardi wey mein, aape ranjha hui. [Chanting Ranjha’s name over and over, I’ve become Ranjha myself.] The last time Gulzar did something like this was in Mausam, where he borrowed a sher from Ghalib: Dil dhoondhta hai. The simple and playful structure of this song, and background percussion beats are similar to Yaar Mila Tha from Blue. But Rekha and Javed’s voice, Anuradha Sriram’s background vocals, and Gulzar’s poetry makes this song a treat to hear.

Reena Bhardwaj’s pristine voice, chorus (seven singers are credited for providing background vocals), flute, sitar and tabla creates a quasi-devotional mood in Khili Re. This song will probably grow over time. Good to see Reena’s come-back after a long time – her first and only song was Ye Rishta in Meenaxi. Kata Kata is an explosion of bugles, heavy percussion (dhol), shehnai and a diverse consortium of singers who celebrate the last few moments of bride and groom before their wedding. Ranjit Barot’s music arrangement is quite impressive. The lyrics are teasing and sarcastic for the most part, but there are some sincere words of advice for the bride as well! (Remember Chhalka Chhalka Re from Saathiya?) Reportedly, this song was shot with 1,000 dancers in Orcha, Madhya Pradesh.

It’s only been a day since I’ve been listening to this album, and I don’t want to give a hurried verdict. But I would say that it’s quite an enjoyable album and worth your money (please buy original music!)

[You can listen to Raavan songs on MeraMood.]

A R Rahman’s Spiritual Canon

A R Rahman has experimented, quite successfully, with myriad musical genres. But when it comes to spiritual songs, he likes to leave them untainted by not adding a lots of bells and whistles and rely heavily on the core melody itself.

I don’t think any other music director (in Bollywood, if not in India) has given us more “spiritual” songs than the maestro. I like to call them spiritual songs, as opposed to religious or devotional, because although majority of these songs have either Islamic or Hindu flavor, I find them universally appealing and elevating. Here’s a list of my favorites from this genre:

Khwaja Mere Khwaja – Jodha Akbar

This song was dedicated to the Hidalwali (Saint of India) Khwaja Ghareeb-un-Nawaz, and was rendered by A R Rahman himself. He one mentioned in an interview that this song is very close to his heart, and you can feel his sincerity in the way he has sung this beautiful song. The soul stirring instrumental (Oboe) version of this song gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

[Trivia: The lyrics of this song were not written by Javed Akhar – who wrote all other songs of this movie – but by someone named Kashif.]

Arziyan – Delhi 6

Backed by harmonium, tabla and continual gentle claps, this mesmerizing qawwali is like an ode to the Islamic culture of Old Delhi. Javed Ali, along with Kailash Kher, does full justice to Prasoon Joshi’s meaningful lyrics and A R Rahman’s magical tune.

Piya Haji Ali – Fiza

This was the first Sufi-style qawwali that A R Rahman composed for a movie. For Khuda ke vali (God’s friend) Haji Ali, to be specific. Shaukat Ali’s beautiful lyrics give a glimpse of how Islam, the monotheist religion, has blended with the local cultures in India: Yahaan hindu muslim sikh isaai faiz paate hai.

[Trivia: This song was performed by Ghulam Mustafa brothers, Srinivas and A R Rahman. Can you identify which lines are sung by Srinivas?]

Apart from the obvious Sufi semblance, muqaddar/taqdeer/kismat is another connecting link between the aforementioned songs: Arziyan (Marammat muqaddar ki kar do maula), Khwaja Mere Khwaja (Bekasoor ki taqdeer, tune hai saNwaari) and Piya Haji Ali (Bigadi kismat aap ke dar par saNwarti hai).

Al Maddath Maula – Mangal Pandey: The Rising

Unlike the three songs mentioned above, this one has a high tempo, an adrenaline rush and a dark tone of impending calamity. Murtuza, Qadir and Kailash Kher sing this song with a fervor, with intermittent devout spine-tingling calls to maula by A R Rahman.

[Trivia: Murtaza and Qadir are the same Ghulam Mustafa brothers from Piya Haji Ali. They also accompanied A R Rahman in Tere Bina from Guru, and rendered some beautiful lines in Chupke Se song from Saathiya.]

O Paalanhaare – Lagaan

There are actually two versions of this song. One sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Udit Narayan, and the other with an additional female singer. It’s the latter version that was used in the movie (to distinguish the lines picturized on Gauri and Bhuvan’s mother). But I prefer the former one, with Lata’s aging yet divine voice accompanied by mellifluous flute and subtle sounds of temple bells. Here’s the version that was used in the movie.

Noor-Un-Ala-Noor – Meenaxi

Written by the great painter and inept director, M F Hussain, this addictive qawwali raised a controversy because some Muslims got offended (I think the song uses a phrase from Quran to praise the beauty of a mere mortal: Meenaxi). And guess who are the singers of this qawwali? Murtaza and Qadir again!

Man Mohana – Jodha Akbar

As I wrote in my review of Jodha Akbar’s music, add Mira’s pangs of separation (from Krishna) to Radha’s passion (for him) and you get the recipe for this devotional song. The way Bela Shende has rendered this bhajan – her unflattering voice and command over the highs and lows of the song leaves you wondering why she doesn’t get more offers as a singer. (Isn’t Kangna Re from Paheli is her only other song?)

Ek Tu Hi Bharosa – Pukar

Lata and A R Rahman joined hands only seven times, and the result is always breathtaking. The tune of this song was originally composed for a concert in Malaysia and later used for this movie.

Zikr – Bose: The Forgotten Hero

This song is something else! I can’t really describe the elevated sense of euphoria that it evokes. One shouldn’t merely listen to this song, one should experience it. Since I am not a religious person, I attribute the effect of the song to the music (as opposed to its meaning).

Ishwar Allah – 1947 Earth

The secular message of this melancholic number is in the form of a series of questions to the almighty. It’s played in the background when the  end-credits roll, and I think that was a perfect way to end this movie – a story of savagery and violence narrated by a Parsi girl.

Blue (A R Rahman) Music Review

ARR has mentioned in one of his interviews that he was concerned about the high expectations from Blue since it’s his first release after the Jai Ho! hysteria. “It’s important that you don’t get typecast. It’s also important to give the kind of music the film requires and have fun with it!” said the maestro, so let’s keep that in mind while analyzing this album.

I’ve never heard of the Australian singer Kylie Minogue before, but she sounds pretty good in Chiggy Wiggy. (And looks beautiful as a chanteuse as well… I would surely not mind doing Chiggy Wiggy with her!) The mukhda is catchy, but the first antraa (female part) doesn’t quite maintain the catchy-ness. The transition from Western to desi (Punjabi) style is somewhat abrupt but doesn’t really break the flow of the song. Sonu Nigam handles the naughty desi part of the song with ease. The last time ARR did something like this was in Lagaan where O Ri Chhori was merged with  My Heart It Speaks A Thousand Words. Two distinct songs (one Western, one desi) are joined together with a transitory interlude, and finally they blend together to create a fusion (Anglo-Punjabi, in this case).

The only thing I really liked about Aaj Dil Gustakh Hai is Shreya’s mellifluous and sensuous rendition. That and the sound-scaping (layering) by ARR. (You might want to put your head-phones on to fully appreciate the subtle layering of instruments in this song.) Continual acoustic guitar chords and breezy piano backdrop give this song a fast flowing tempo.

Vijay Prakash, however, seem to be a wrong choice for the next song, Fiqrana, which has a very addictive and peppy tune. He is a talented singer and did wonders with Man Mohini (Yuvvraj), and shined in Sooni Sooni (Cheeni Kum) and Pal Pal (Swades) as well. But I feel that his voice (which sounds quite different in this song, by the way) has a lot of earnestness that doesn’t do full justice to the “fiqraana” mood of this song.

The background orchestration in Bhoola Tujhe elevates this soulful song to yet another level. The sound arrangement and Rashid Ali’s voice makes me feel as if this were a leftover song from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. The trumpet makes a brief re-appearance after its last outing with ARR in Ghajini (Behka). Rashid Ali has a unique voice and he handles the singing part very well – I just wish he focused on his diction. I listened to this song so many times in headphones but I still can’t decipher some words – which is sad because Abbas Tyrewala seems to have done a good job with this poetic conversation with khuda. There are just so many lazy pronunciations in this song, but simple mistakes like ‘kahaa‘ or ‘ka-aa‘ instead of ‘kahaan‘ just frustrate me and take some joy out of listening to this otherwise beautiful song. (I mean, come on, does Rashid Ali not speak and understand Hindi or what?)

Ba-loo, I mean, Blue Theme is fantabulous. There are total six singers in this 3.52 minutes short frenzy, but the most prominent vocal is by Raqueeb Alam, whose Bachchan-like voice does full justice to the attitude of this song. The heavy percussion and adrenaline tempo gave me goosebumps in the first few listens, and I am sure it will sound even better with the on-screen action sequences in the movie. I liked the imagery of “kabhi surkh lahoo hai, tabhi rang blue hai“. But why, oh why, ba-loo?

I absolutely loved Rehnuma – easily my pick of the album. Shreya  Ghoshal’s magical voice dominates this jazzy number – she cruises her way through the highs and lows in this song. Sonu’s contribution is significantly smaller but his seductive voice does leave his trademark on this song.

Yaar Mila Tha reminded me of that natkhat song from Bombay, Kuchi Kuchi Rakamma. Without the R&B’ish beats and supporting vocals, this song would have sounded like some outdated duet from the 90’s. Udit Narayan is accompanied by Mahalaxmi here (instead of Kavita Krishnamurthy). Udit’s voice is slightly modulated (what’s it called, the sonic-sound?), and with any other song that would have been a turn-off for me, but the naughty playful tune and lyrics make up for that big time! I am eager to see this song on screen – as the situation described is pretty unique and interesting, and I am not sure if  “Teri wafaa ke kisse ab ga rahi hai duniya; har maa kahe bete se la aisi dulhaniya…” is a sarcastic take on the alleged bewafaai of the dulhaniya or not.

Barring a couple of songs, I didn’t quite liked the album during the first few listens — which wasn’t the case with Delhi-6 that blew me away in the very first listen. But they certainly grew on me after two days of repeated listening. So if you don’t like the songs initially, have some faith and give it some more time!

Overall, I don’t think this is one of the best albums of ARR, but given the premise of the movie (action thriller), I think ARR has really tried to push the envelop and give a soul to this presumably soul-less movie. (Yes, I do think that this is going to be another mindless Bollywood thriller, albeit with impressive visuals and well-choreographed action sequences.) Oh, and I wish the singers – other than Sonu, Shreya and Udit – paid some attention to the correct pronunciation… but that’s often the case with many of ARR’s albums, isn’t it? So there.

I can’t say I have drowned into the music of Blue (at least not yet!), but I am certainly enjoying a dubki (dive) or two.

Earlier music reviews: Delhi 6, Jodha Akbar

Sonu Nigam Top 10

My favorite songs rendered by one of my favorite singers Sonu Nigam: (In no particular order.)

(1) Satrangi Re – Dil Se

Seven colors (Satrangi) symbolize the seven stages/shades of love: hub (attraction), uns (infatuation), ishq (love), aqidat (reverence), ibaadat (worship), junoon (passion), and maut (death). Gulzar weaves together these seven shades into a great poetic form, complemented by A R Rahman’s wonderful music and Santosh Sivam’s spectacular cinematography. Sonu Nigam, and quite notably Mahalaxmi, brings this dark and powerful song to life by adding the ethos and passion to Gulzar’s philosophical words. At the time of this album’s release, Sonu Nigam admitted that this was one of the toughest songs he ever sang. There are very few other songs that have such prolific combination of lyrics, singing, music and visuals.

(2) Sau Dard – Jaan-e-mann

Gulzar’s poignant lyrics were intentionally kept conversational because of the experimental (operatic) structure of all songs in this musical movie. I love the way “Ek tu hi naheen” extends and blends with the sound of the flute. Love the way the song reaches its operatic high, supported by beautiful orchestration. The lines “Sau raaste, par teri raah naheen” reminds me of another one of Gulzar’s song from Aandhi “In reshmi raahon mein, ik raah to woh hogi, tum tak jo pahonchti hai”.

(3) Tanhayee – Dil Chahta Hai

This significant milestone in SEL’s career (Dil Chahta Hai) had many gems, but my favorite from the entire album is this sad one sung soulfully by Sonu Nigam. The crying flute before each stanza gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. The picturization of this song by Farhan Akhtar is quite impressive — consider Aamir Khan standing aloof in front of a moving traffic or in between a huge walking crowd… to Javed Akhtar’s “Milon hai phaili hui tanhayee“, Farhan adds a contrasting yet enhancing image: bheed mein tanhayee.

(4) Soona Mann Ka Aangan – Parineeta

Sonu Nigam is said to have shed tears while recording this song. Shantanu Moitra borrows few lines (Phool phool) written and composed by Rabindranath Tagore in this movie that was based on his contemporary novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya, and pays a musical tribute to their era.

(5) Tujh Sang – Dev

One of the few semi-classical songs of Sonu Nigam. Fast paced, moving and amazingly rendered by Sonu Nigam. (I am still unable to fathom how Aadesh Shrivastav could have come up with such fascinating score.) The ease with which Sonu Nigam moves between lower and higher octaves proves his superiority (among other contemporary singers) when it comes to the classical genre.

(6) Desh Ki Mitti – Bose: The Forgotten Hero

A patriotic, yet subtle song. This is one of those handful patriotic songs that conveys the feeling without using cliched words like zindagi, maut, kurbaan, jaan, aan, baan, shaan etc. Sonu Nigam had another great song in this movie – “Ekla chalo re”. But I like “Desh ki mitti” more, especially because of the heart-melting melody by A R Rahman. Listen to the instrumental version of this song (here) and you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.

(7) Kal Ho Na Ho – Kal Ho Na Ho

Another SEL classic, an evergreen melody. This is probably the most popular song in my entire list.

(8) In Lamho Ke Daman Mein – Jodha Akbar

Sonu Nigam’s flawless pronunciations and A R Rahman’s heavenly melody combined with Javed Akhtar’s imaginative lyrics make this song a real treasure. Javed Akhtar carefully chose Urdu words for the lines sung by Akbar, a Muslim king; and shuddh Hindi words for the lines sung by Jodha, a Rajput princess: Pakeeza, qalma, farishtey, falak versus samay, kaaya, prem.

(9) Dheere Jalna – Paheli

M. M. Kreem’s jaw-dropping music, a melange of dholaks, tabla, sitar, flute and shehnai, makes this song so alive and vibrant. (I wish we get to hear more from this most under-rated music director, IMHO, in Bollywood.) Notice how this song comes in the movie when the ghost (disguised as Shahrukh) comes to Shahrukh’s haveli for the first time, and Gulzar’s lyrics give us a hint to his precarious situation — “dheere jalna”, “soch samajh kar aanch rakhna” — and also suggest how his desires can shatter any time… i.e. “kaanch ka sapna gal hi na jaaye”.

(10) Ye Dil – Pardes

There are many other memorable songs by Sonu Nigam and I am not going to list all of them. But I just can’t leave out this song from Pardes that provided a great boost to Sonu Nigam’s career, who established his own singing style with this song, and broke his image as a Rafi-imitator. This album, and especially this song, is probably Nadeem Shravan’s most original work (as compared to their knock-off’s from Pakistani Ghazals and songs).

Jai Ho!

Being an ardent fan of his music, it was an enthralling experience for me to see A R Rahman accept his Academy Awards in the Best Song and Best Original Score categories. (I was even more out-of-control than Anil Kapoor!) Many congratulations to him, Gulzar (who shared the Oscar for his song Jai Ho, but was not present at the ceremony), and also to the entire cast and crew members of Slumdog Millionaire for a spectacular victory.

Bollywood is a widely recognized “brand” in the West, but Slumdog Millionaire will be remembered as the movie that made Bollywood a household name in the United States. And as Vir Sanghvi mentioned on his blog, any conversation about World Music will be incomplete now without mentioning A R Rahman. 

Meanwhile, India remains divided in its reactions towards SM. There are those who scorned at its “negative” depiction of India. And there are those who, in spite of the fact that the movie is produced by two American studios and directed by a British man, are celebrating its victory as one of their own.

In my opinion, the movie is fantastic and quite entertaining, but over-rated. (For the record, I am neither disappointed nor offended by the portrayal of India in this movie. I don’t think that it is any director’s responsibility to show the complete picture of a society.)  But I am happy for the movie’s success and especially for the global recognition that it has brought to A R Rahman, Bollywood, and Indian movie industries.

Since the dawn of multiplex cinema in the last decade (in India), we’ve seen Bollywood slowly starting to grow out of the singing-and-dancing, good-guy-bad-guy format and becoming more experimental and creative with its craft. And then… here comes Hollywood, embracing the feel-good, rags-to-riches, escapist nature of cinema that we’ve just started to shed off. Will the global success of SM create a reprisal of escapism in Bollywood movies or will the mingling of talents beween the two biggest movie industries in the world accelerate the growth of meaningful and artistic cinema in India? Well, I guess both can happen simultaneously, as Bollywood and India are big enough that they “dwarf even the sky”! (Danny Boyle’s quote from his acceptance speech last night.)

P.S. This article suggests that there’s an inverse correlation between global GDP and the mood of cinema (“as the wealth and prosperity ballooned, cinema became darker”) and tries to explain why a feel-good movie like Slumdog Millionaire won in this year’s Oscar race.

Delhi-6 Music Review

The vintage Rahman is back! And he’s back with a gusto. The album is a melange of soul-stirring awe-inspiring melodies, feet tapping rhythms, wonderful poetry and some impressive singing that you just can’t get enough of. Every song in this album is a gem.

Like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s last outing with ARR, Rang De Basanti, this album too opens up with a religious track Tumre Bhavan Mein. A short and serene track that, if you ignore the lyrics, sounds more like a traditional wedding song.

Arziyan, a qawwali, is like an ode to the Islamic culture of the old Delhi. In the very beginning of the song, Javed Ali sounds very much like Sonu Nigam and that made me wonder why arr has been giving these songs (Kehne Ko Jashn-e-Bahara, Guzarish) to Javed Ali instead of his favorite Sonu Nigam who might have been a better choice for these songs. But as the song progresses, Javed Ali quickly clears up my doubts. He, along with Kailash Kher, excels in singing this divine qawwali. The jugalbandi between Javed and Kailash in the second antra is awesome. The clapping, the beats of tabla, the sounds of harmonium, the supporting chorus, simple yet meaningful lyrics, everything is just perfect in this song – and together they all create a mesmerizing listening experience that I yearn for again and again.

Sar utha kar maine, kitni khwahishein ki thi

Kitne khwab dekhe the, kitni koshishein ki thi

Jab tu rubaru aaya, nazrein naa mila paaya

Sar jhooka ke ek pal mein, maine kya naheen paaya.

Shreya Ghosal has big shoes to fill in Bhor Bahye, where ARR invokes a legend from the past – Late Ustan Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, but she does an excellent job in singing this classical thumri. (Here’s a link the original thumri sung by the legend.)

Prasoon Joshi writes some nice lyrics in Dil Gira Daffatan. Geez, when was the last time we heard the word daffatan (which means ‘suddenly’) in a song? Wasn’t it Ghulam Ali’s immortal ghazal Chupke Chupke? (‘Kheench le na voh mera parde ka kona daffatan.’) Although I thought Ash King faltered on some high notes, the heavenly melody and simplistic arrangement (continual mild chords like water flowing in a river) overshadows the minor glitches. The song and especially the interludes takes several unexpected twists and turns that keep surprising you every time you hear them. Chinmayee’s minimal yet impressive backup vocal reminds us how wonderful singer she is (who made quite an astonishing debut in Kannathil Muthamittal).

The lady with a haunting, sensuous and unconventional voice, Rekha Bhardwaj sings for ARR for the first time in a feet tapping and teasing folk song Genda Phool. Jaw dropping fusion of folk and techno beats. ARR almost shows off his unparalleled expertise in creating a fusion song! Watch out for the sudden explosion of techno beats (right after ‘Saiyaji vyapari chale hai pardes.‘)… swept me off my feet during first few listens. Prasoon Joshi again comes up with some commendable lyrics, which reminded me of Gulzar’s Naina Milaike and Chalka from Saathiya.

Mohit Chauhan makes his second appearance with ARR after Khoon Chala from Rang De Basanti. What a song! (From what I heard, Masakkali is the name of the pigeon, by the way.) A free flowing, addictive and fun song… the last time ARR did something close to this was in Saathiya (Aye Udi Udi). I love how arr have been using accordion in his songs lately. (The celestial opening music of Aye Hairatein in Guru.) I always thought that Mohit Chauhan’s voice was only suited for ghazals and soft romantic songs. Never realized that he could handle such a power packed and expressive song with such ease. This song is already been shown in the promos, and is becoming an instant hit.

Amitabh Bachchan, needless to say, does justice to a small couplet titled Noor that sounds almost like a left-over shayari from Fanaa (where Amir Khan vocalized some shayaris that were written by Prasoon Joshi). Hey Kaala Bandar is a funky, hip-hop’ish and easily my least favorite song in this album. The chorus in the interludes is very similar to the tune of ‘Door dil se naheen hai hum door‘ from Yuvvraaj.

Prasoon Joshi’s poetry in Rehna Tu is reminiscent of Munna Dhiman’s Apne Rang Gawaye Bin from U Me Aur Hum. The sound arrangement in this song alone is enough to establish the fact that no other musician comes even close to him when it comes to innovative sounds and song structures. Excellent back-up vocals by Benny Dayal (who appears consecutively in all of the last four Hindi albums by ARR) Claire, Vivinenne and Tanvi Shah (who sang Fanaa with ARR in Yuva, and also Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire).

Delhi 6 (Ye Delhi Hai Mere Yaar) is mind blowing. Wild stuff. The best line by Prasoon Joshi comes in this song ‘Ye shehar naheen, mehfil hai’. Over the years we have heard and cherished many songs about our beloved city Bombay, now Delhi gets a sensational and groovy song of its own.

All of Prasoon Joshi’s “sins” in Ghajini are washed away by his work in Delhi 6. The only minor gripe I have is that I thought some reference(s) to places/areas in Delhi would have been apt for a movie that’s so fascinated with the city… like how Gulzar referred to places in Delhi in the Kajrare song from Bunty Aur Babli (‘Ballimaran se daribe talak, teri meri kahani Dilli mein.’).

As I write this, the audio CD is not out yet. I have been listening to the songs online (here). Please buy the CD if you like the songs, it’s worth every penny.

PS. The zip code of Chandani Chowk area (where Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra grew up) in Delhi is 110006, and that’s what’s behind the namesake. I am really enjoying Bollywood directors’ newfound fascination with the old Delhi (Khosla Ka Ghosla, Rang De Basanti, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!)

The Second Chance (Ghajini movie review)

“If life gives me a second chance…”

“…I would do the same mistakes again.” is what A. R. Murugadoss, who directs the Hindi remake of the “original” Ghajini in Tamil, is likely tell you.

“Well yes, accurately and vigorously, may be. After all, they worked the first time around!”


Yes, there are no twin antagonists here – in Tamil version they merely existed so that the cinematographer can play some cool tricks during the fighting sequences. Yes, in spite of her immensely limited acting skills, Jiah Khan does look more convincing in her role as compared to the actress who played this role in Tamil version. Yes, arr’s background score is relatively easy on ears. (I loved the alaap in the final scene, right after Sanjay kills Ghajini and basks in his 15-minute glory of the satisfaction from revenge.) Yes, the final scene when the second antara of  ‘Kaise Mujhe’ plays in the background (a beautiful melody by arr that pours like honey* see footnote), elevates it to a level that the Tamil version was never able to reach. And yes, Aamir’s acting is superb. Mostly. But not quite enough to make the cut.

The reason why I did not like Ghajini is threefold:

  1. I saw the Tamil “original” and did not like it mostly because of the way story was executed. The exaggerated expressions of the protagonist (along with the ear-deafening background score) and loop-holes in the script were real downers. But I saw a lot of potential in the content. When Aamir signed-up to do a remake, I was hoping that this man realized that potential, and will better the script. Keeping his perfectionist personality in mind, I was hoping he would do his due diligence in researching the anterograde amnesia syndrome and also help to better capture the precarious condition of Sanjay’s character. There were many opportunities that could have been easily reached. Murugadoss completely failed to explore or even capture the depths of Sanjay’s sentiments. Instead, he gave us a character that shrieked like an animal, who goes from a state of utter confusion and helplessness to bursting rage in rocket speed. Foaming at the mouth and all.
  2. There are probably many things that Bollywood can learn from Tamil cinema. But the exaggerated fight sequences (with necks bending at 180 degrees), few speedy-snappy zoom-in zoom-out camera shots followed by a slow-mo shot of the Hero walking towards the camera, utter disregard to characterizing of the antagonist (he merely exists so that the Hero can beat him up in the final scene), addressing every other man as “sir” (as Sunita does), referring to your boyfriend as a “lover” (as Kalpana does) are not one of them. 
  3. I am a big fan of the movie Memento (Christopher Nolan, in general). The greatness of Memento (ah, the sheer genious of the script and screenplay) and mediocrity of Ghajini is so wide and deep that it makes all the flaws of Ghajini even more perceptive. Granted, the additional layer of Lenny’s (Sanjay’s counterpart in Memento) motivation which is revealed in the end with a pull-the-rug-from-under-your-feet twist, and the chronological order of the screenplay put Memento in a totally different genre than that of Ghajini. But after all, Ghajini is inspired, quite heavily, by Memento – so a comparison is unavoidable.

Sanjay’s character is shown to be suffering from anterograde amnesia. We’re informed by the doctor that he lost all of his memory (except some fuzzy recollection of what happened during that unfortunate incident). First, this is inaccurate description of anterograde amnesia. The patient actually retains all of his memory before the incident and looses the ability to store any new memory after the incident. And second, this actually weakens the core subject of the movie – revenge. If Sanjay doesn’t remember anything else about his previous life (how he fell in love, his time spent with Kalpana, the awesome-ness of Kalpana’s character etc.), then I think the degree of Sanjay’s aggression and extreme desire for vengeance falls somewhat short of justification.

The emotional precariousness of Sanjay’s character is left unexplored, as I’ve mentioned earlier. Even in the movie Memento, with half running time than that of Ghajini, the lead character is given few dialogues that gives us an idea of his resolution (for wanting to take a revenge that he’s not going to remember after 15 minutes) and the pains of loosing one’s ability to sense/track time (his wound becomes “fresh” every 15 minutes):

  • “My wife deserves her vengeance. Doesn’t make any difference whether I know about it. Just because there are things I don’t remember doesn’t make my actions meaningless. The world doesn’t disappear when you close your eye, does it?”
  • “I lie here, not knowing how long I’ve been alone. So how can I heal? How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel… time?”

Also, it was another failure of the director that the final fight sequence (although much better than the twin-dragon-in-girl’s-hostel fight sequence in the Tamil version) was not able to generate an adrenalin rush that a movie like Ghulam, for instance, was able to.

I am more disappointed by Aamir than anyone else though. First Fanaa and now Ghajini. I am not sure if I am going to retain my enthusiasm for the release of Aamir’s next movie now.

Previous movie reviews: Aamir, No Smoking, Satya. 

* Footnote: I still can’t help but notice every time I hear Benny Dayal (mis)pronounce Jheel as Jeel. The exact same word that he mispronounced in ‘Aawaz Hoon Main’ from Yuvvraaj! I guess there’s someone else (apart from Murugadoss) who doesn’t appreciate the value of second chance, huh!

Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and Ada – Initial Reaction

I have been listening to Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and Ada since last two days, and here’re some of my initial thoughts:

Kabhi Kabhi Aditi is a catchy, light and peppy number. I loved it in the very first listen (on the promos). Although Rashid Ali did a commendable job and his voice suits well to the movie’s young and fresh look, I wish Rahman had given this song to Adnan Sami. I think this song belonged to Adnan. (Isn’t Rashid Ali’s singing seem to have inspired from Adnan?) The rationale behind not using Adana though is probably that they wanted to have a new voice for the new face (i.e. Imran Khan) – at least for this ‘opening’ song. 

Rahman has re-used one of his own tunes for this song. The mukhda of Kabhi Kabhi Aditi is same as the guitar interlude in Mustafa Mustafa song from the movie Duniya Dilwalon Kee. I am actually glad that he has done that (i.e. re-using one of his tunes from the interludes of his own song). There are many song by arr which has wonderful instrumental (or chorus) interludes that can be used to create a mukhda of new song (The violin interlude in Ae Ajnabi, Swarnalatha’s humming in Sunta Hai Mera Khuda, chorus from the starting of the song Naheen Saamne etc. etc. etc.)

Jaane Tu Mera Kya Hai conveys the melancholic mood effectively. I liked the version sung by Sukhwinder more than the one sung by Runa Rizvi (which is also very good), mostly because of the opening music/tempo and the operatic chorus in the background that takes it to another level. (The techno beats of Runa Rizvi verion reminded me of songs of Tehzeeb.)

Pappu Can’t Dance has a very catchy tune and feet-tapping beats. However, I don’t think it’s gonna be one of those songs that I will yearn to hear in a way I feel about most (or at least, so many) of arr’s songs.

After a long time, arr gives us a smooth jazzy number, sung by himself, Tu Bole Main Boloon. A very enjoyable track sprinkled with saxophone background and light drum beats. (Is Vennila Vennila from Iruvar the only other jazz song by arr?)

Abbas Tyrewala has done a good job as a first time lyricist (His earlier work includes dialogues for Munnabhai M.B.B.S.). I really liked that he used the immortal lines ‘Papa Kehte Hain Bada Naam Karega’, giving a nod to Aamir Khan’s first movie: Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. (JTYJN is Aamir’s nephew Imran’s first movie.)

Moving on to the other album released simultaneously with JTYJN – Ada.

Rashid Ali’s pronunciations in Ishq Ada sounded a bit weird to me. I think he tried to add an Arabic/Middle-Eastern element to the song – the lyrics, heavy on Urdu words, also confirms this (I hope there’s some relevance to that in the movie.)

All songs except Ishq Ada and Meherbaan are written by Nusrat Badr. I was excited to see his name on album cover because I loved his work in Devdas (after which he almost disappeared). But honestly, I didn’t find anything extraordinary in his lyrics this time.

Gumsum Gumsum sounds infinitely ordinary (by arr standards). If Ada is a musical journey by arr, then this surely is the worst destination. Tu Mera also belong to the same category. (The lines ‘Jise Chaha Mil Gaya’ sung by Chitra reminded me – both lyrically and musically – of similar lines ‘Tu Mujhko Mil Gaya’ from Tera Jaadu Chal Gaya. Vague similarity, though.) 

Meherbaan is wonderful and instantly likable. Hai Dard and Milo Wahan Wahan both are, for the lack of better word, interesting – both in structure and sound, very unlike-Rahman, I think (and hope, even more so) these ghazal-like songs has some ‘growth potential’. Rahman has rarely used Sunidhi before (in fact, only once in Nayak) who joins Sonu Nigam in Gulfisha – another song that didn’t really impress me.

Overall I am disappointed with Ada, and enjoyed JTYJN. As it’s universally known, arr’s songs (specially the “heavy”, deep and long-lasting ones) need repeated hearings and some time to grow on you. Being an ardent arr fan, I hope that it will happen this time too, and my initial assessments will be proven wrong. But deep down, I am skeptical!

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